I moved to Twin Oaks about 12 years ago, and about four years in, it became apparent to me that I was going to be a parent (the rapidly swelling midsection of my partner helped to tip me off). So I figured, as long as I was going to be raising a kid or two on the farm, they might as well be farm kids.
When I first heard about fracking, I knew it was bad. I just didn’t understand much beyond that.
Then my friend Tom said something about getting payments from his parents’ land and a Natural Gas lease. Yes, it turns out, they have signed a lease with the natural gas company allowing fracking on their land. Last night I watched the rivetting documentary Gasland, which is essentially Tom’s story. Living on the beautiful piece of land he grew up in in PA, one day Josh Fox (creator of Gasland) got a gas lease form in the mail. Curious, he started asking questions. Talking to people. Collecting samples of people’s tap water. Travelling to other fracking sites in the west and midwest.
And the story slowly comes together. Turns out its really quite simple. Ten years ago, 1% of our natural gas came from fracking. Today its 30%.
This is largely because in 2005, then Vice President Dick Cheney, a former CEO of natural gas drilling company Halliburton, got congress to exempt natural gas fracking from the Clean Water and Clean Air Acts. The result was that fracking for natural gas expanded quickly, and that expansion has happened in an entirely unregulated, cowboy-like fashion.
So just what is fracking you may ask? Its pretty simple actually. Here’s a great basic definition from Don’t Frack with NY :
“Short for hydraulic fracturing— a drilling technique which involves injecting toxic chemicals, sand, and millions of gallons of water under high pressure directly into the ground to release natural gas in shale deposits. This mixture of toxins and sediment, along with any natural gas released, can leak to the surface and enter rivers and groundwater in the process.”
Doesn’t bode well for having clean, drinkable water from your tap.
This is one of those cases where if I really let myself be open to the facts of what is happening, and to the emotional experience of the people it is most impacting, I feel rage, overhwhelming sadness, and utter helplessness. And all I can see to do is try to stay open to the information that is coming at me so that when the opportunity arises I am able to take action.
Tom recently wrote the following about his family’s experience:
“My mom, dad and I have a lot to talk to about when it comes to the future and vision of our family’s property. The natural gas drilling has increased rapidly and soon we will know details about potential financial gains from the drilling. This is a confusing (whats the REAL cost of the drilling to the land, people and overall health?!) time for myself and my family as this process has taken about five years….It has been incredibly hard for me throughout this process due to my home in Pennsylvania always being “the safe place” to go home to and now with the drilling my home land has the potential of being physically harmful. This is incredibly hard to take. Its hard to believe this is happening to a place so serene, beautiful and close to my heart.”
[guest written by Kassia]
This is a guest post by Kassia.
No-one can deny that the Boston bombing incident was truly a horrific tragedy. And while it is important to mourn the tragedy and the loss, its also a fascinating moment to take a little peek behind the scenes of media spin and consider how easily mainstream media can shape public sentiment. For instance–which photo do you choose use when running your newspaper’s story about Dzhokhar–the fresh-faced, well-lit pic or the shadowy, squinty-eyed one?
And generally, it is the non-american media who paint a more complete picture. Writing for al-Jazeera Sarah Kendzior sums up another oh-so-tempting media spin: blame the ________s (fill in ethnic-minority of your choice). She says it very eloquently in her article:
“Despite the Tsarnaevs’ American upbringing, the media has presented their lives through a Chechen lens. Political strife in the North Caucasus, ignored by the press for years, has become the default rationale for a domestic crime.
“Did Boston carnage have its roots in Stalin’s ruthless displacement of Muslims from Chechnya decades ago?” asked The Daily News , a question echoed by the National Post , the Washington Post , and other publications that refuse to see the Tsarnaevs as anything but walking symbols of age-old conflicts. Blame Stalin, the pundits cry, echoing the argument made every time something bad happens in the former Soviet Union. Blame Stalin, because we can pronounce that name.
In one sense, this sentiment is not new. American Muslims have long had to deal with ignorance and prejudice in the aftermath of a terrorist attack. “ Please don’t be Muslims or Arabs “, goes the refrain, as unnecessary demands for a public apology from Muslims emerge. This week made it clear that it is Muslims who are owed the apology. After wild speculation from CNN about a “dark-skinned suspect”, on Thursday the New York Post published a cover photo falsely suggesting a Moroccan-American high school track star, Salah Barhoun , was one of the bombers. ”Jogging while Arab” has become the new “ driving while black “.
Later that Thursday, the FBI released photos of two young men wearing baseball caps – men who so resembled all-American frat boys that people joked they would be the target of “ racial bro-filing “. The men were Caucasian, so the speculation turned away from foreign terror and toward the excuses routinely made for white men who kill: mental illness, anti-government grudges, frustrations at home. The men were white and Caucasian – until the next day, when they became the wrong kind of Caucasian, and suddenly they were not so “white” after all.”
I recommend reading the whole article here.
So the next time this kind of story erupts in the mainstream media and suddenly everybody is talking about it, don’t just buy into the mainstream spin. Take a deeper look at who is saying what about whom and why. Ask yourself and your friends and co-workers what the bigger connections are that the media is drawing. Are they accurate? And what agenda are they serving?
Here’s Sarah’s advise:
“One way to test whether you are reading a reasonable analysis of the Tsarnaev case – and yes, they exist - is to replace the word “Chechen” with another ethnicity. “I could always spot the Chechens in Vienna,” writes journalist Oliver Bulloughs in the New York Times . “They were darker-haired than the Austrians; they dressed more snappily, like 1950s gangsters; they never had anything to do.” Now substitute the word “Jews” for “Chechens”. Minority-hunting in Vienna never ends well .”
[this post guest written by Kassia]
My brother very generously gave the communes two dozen free tickets and back stage passes to his show last night in Cville. The Acorners and Oakers loved it. Some attendees were repeat offenders from last years show.
The band played it’s only platinum album Flood, for most of the show. And on this album is the song Hot Cha, which is the most clearly-about-me song my brother has written. The lyrics of Hot Cha were written (i believe) in response to my disappearance from contact with my parents for much of 1982. My brother and i often played the game Derby Day when we were little and Hot Cha was horse number two and my favorite. Despite his claims otherwise, i am clear that this song on the Flood album is about me.
The funny thing is that i told Mac that this song was about me just before the show and when it started playing she said “This is your song!”. But i did not really recognize it. At first this struck me as odd. Here is this song, written by my brother, on his most famous album, which is about me and i don’t even recognize it. That seems lame.
But really, i am not that big a fan of my brothers music (i do appreciate their theatrics) and it turns out that i dont know most of this album. And he does not know my stuff, so it seemed fair that i might not be paying super careful attention to this critical media.
Before the show we bumped into Olivia in front of the Jefferson Theater with her TMBG t-shirt on, excited about the show – i had never met Olivia before this evening. The conversation turned to the point where i admitted that my brother was in the band and Olivia said “You must be Pax”, which is i think the first time that someone has identified me by name for this connection. I was so excited i gave her one of our back stage passes.
When the show was over, we went thru the strange underground tunnels that lead to where the bands relax. The woman in the wheel chair from Louisa who i had worked on a local campaign with me, who i donated tickets to, could not come with us to the back stage party, which made me sad.
As is often the case, my brother was gregarious and generous. The commune hippies descended like locust on the food and drink in the back stage area. When we left half an hour later it was all but gone. We talked a bit about his coming tour to Australia, about angry audience vibe in Cville and other places. I also reminded him that he was completely right in his political forecast about Obama’s re-election. In May of 2012 he had forecasted “people will be surprised how much he wins by”. When i congratulated him on this forecast he was both dismissive (“could the Republicans have chosen a worse candidate?)” and quick to follow up with a new forecast for the coming two years.
“The Republican Party has opened a Pandora’s box of troubles which will ultimately tear the party apart. The Tea Party and other wingnuts will crash it within two years.” I am doubtful, but i thought Obama was going to be much closer than he was, so i will suspend disbelief.
He talked about his work to stop fracking, his insights into NY Governor Cuomo’s completely political nature (“he has no moral compass.” John said) and the unexpected popularity of their coming Australia trip.
Having evaporated the food, my crew left the green room of the Jefferson theater without Olivia, who lingered behind in the place she always wanted to be.
Since there seems to be a bunch of TMBG fan traffic to this post, i should perhaps go more into detail about my contention that this song was written about me, since there is at least some dispute about it. The song refers to the first time Hot Cha went away a float island was his home. A pretty clear reference to the time i spent hitching on sailboats across the Pacific.
In the original Hot Cha video (which seems now to have been pulled from You Tube) i am told there was a phone with “PAX” on the center of the rotary dial.
My brother certainly feels some affinity for the prodigal son story in light of my disappearance and we did eat fondue together when we were growing up, which is a bit of an odd food choice.
Okay, enuf parasiting off my brothers fame, on to other adventures.
Nuclear boosters and most power utility executives are fond of telling us that renewable power can’t fill the need for reliable electricity and its costs are too high. The graph below is telling because it shows that the path being blazed by Germany is actually representative of the entire European continent. Specifically, newly installed capacity of wind and solar far exceed all other fuels. And that even with record low natural gas prices, over half of the amount of new installed capacity in gas was decommissioned last year. Despite dire warnings of increased coal burning, the amount of decommissioned plants well exceeds new installed capacity. Little new nuclear went on line and a fair amount was pulled from the grid (almost all this year from Germany, but with many more countries likely to close them in the coming years). There are only 4 reactors currently under construction in all of Europe – excluding Russia.
And while it is not as sweeping, there is good news inside the US about California’s progress in supporting local, decentralized solar power for economic classes that are not at the very top of the scale. One of the leading non-profits working to provide lower coast solar installations is Grid Alternatives. Which uses volunteers and local staff to install home based renewable solutions (especially solar) at low rates. They have completed 2,000 home systems in their first 2 years.
State wide programs for single family and multiple family housing units being converted to solar are receiving increased attention and funding. And with a bit of luck we can have our national energy mix shift like our smart friends in Europe have already figuring it out.
25 Arrested at Keystone XL Pipeline Protest in Massachusetts
In the latest protest against the Keystone XL oil pipeline, 25 people were arrested after handcuffing themselves together inside a TransCanada office in Westborough, Massachusetts. More than 100 students, mothers and clergy members staged a “funeral for our future,” saying TransCanada’s pipeline would spur devastating climate change, pollution and potential spills.
Protesters: [singing] “They are digging us a hole. They are digging us a hole, six feet underground, where the pipeline will go.”
The Keystone XL pipeline would carry tar sands crude from Canada to Texas. A decision from President Obama on the project is expected soon, after a State Department review found it does not pose a serious threat to the environment. (this is from democracy now)
i watch the nuclear news. In particular i watch the nuclear reactor stories which the mainstream media promotes. This week there is a lot of excitement about the young man in this picture.
Taylor Wilson, according to the TED talk article, built a fusion reactor in his parents garage when he was 14. Only he did not. Here is what the OED says about reactors:
an apparatus or structure in which fissile material can be made to undergo a controlled, self-sustaining nuclear reaction with the consequent release of energy.
What young Mr. Wilson did is at best a fusion experiment. There is no self-sustaining aspect to this reaction, and whatever power was released was dwarfed by the energy that went into making his experiment. In fact this is a classic nuclear power deception, claiming that you are solving problems when you are at best doing nothing and at worst creating other problems.
As for fusion power as a solution to the worlds energy problems, this remains another illusive myth. In 2006, New Scientist said “If commercial fusion is viable, it may well be a century away.”
Now we are told that Mr Wilson at the age of 18 has designed a small modular reactor. Again we are bombarded with technophilic promises:
- Its underground, so is safer from a terrorism perspective
- No chance for meltdowns
- Can consume waste from nuclear weapons program
- 30 years (instead of 1.5) between refuelings
- small, built in factories and thus cheap
- passive design and intrinsically safe
- Will have on the market in 5 years
Only he will not have them on the market in 5 years. The promises are basically identical to the promises Bill Gates makes for his own Terra Power. But the folks at Gates’ very well funded research organization are now estimating 2022 for the first prototype. It is worth noting that this is being built outside the US because the permiting process is too slow, a point young Mr. Wilson seems to have no concerns about. But since he does not have a company to back up his fanciful claims it perhaps does not matter.
The point here is the one most powerfully made by Jerry Mander in his book, In The Absence of the Sacred. The people presenting the new technology are the ones who benefit from its existence and who have no interest in pointing out the problems or downsides for their proposals. This is not that surprising; why should they hype their own problems?
What is not excusable is the mainstream media’s complicit behavior in this. I have read perhaps a dozen articles on this clever young man. Not one of them points out that seasoned nuclear engineers with financial backing are not forecasting production of small modular reactors for a dozen years. Nor do any of these excited writers point out that the type of reactor Taylor is hoping to design is an existing design which has been abandoned by several countries for more promising designs. They do not even challenge the idea that this might not be a cheap solution, since all reactors currently under construction in the west (western Europe and North America) are delayed and over budget.
And while i have not studied this design in depth, it almost certainly fails the most important tests for a reactor: cost, waste and flexibility.
It took less than an hour to permanently transform the skin on my inner wrist into a work of art, but when I reappeared in the kitchen, you’d have thought I’d been gone a week and been re-made by the Witness Protection Program. Edgar, who is 4, was livid, as I knew he would be, that I’d done something new. He freaks out if I wear a shirt he hasn’t seen before.
I don’t like to say “never” because, well, you never know. So I guess I tend to operate in a sort of hopeful fatalism, which is why the powerful introduction to Rosa Park’s new autobiography, The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks was such a downer. I was looking up Rosa Parks not because it’s Black History Month, nor because I’d heard of the book, but because I’d overheard my 15-year-old daughter and her 16-year-old friend (both offspring of life-long political activists) say, “Who’s Jessie Jackson?” during a game of Apples to Apples.
Jakub and i went out together in Prague the other night. Jakub was one of the founders (with Honza Beranek) of Hnuti DUHA, the Czech dark green environmental group i worked with for nearly 7 years. i had a wonderful time, both meeting new activists and retelling stories of these glory days.
When reasonable people had gone to sleep, Jakub and i kept talking. We went to the home of his friend, a night owl and independent film maker, Vit Janecek. “So you are the spiritual father of Hnuti DUHA” Vit said to me and i was quite taken a back. I never considered myself to have such a significant role, but as Jakub described it i could see how someone might think this. I was touched and flattered.
Jakub was 19 when we started working together, i was 36. The first time we did a march at nuclear power plant there were perhaps 50 protesters. At one point there was something of a stand off between the armed security guards of the plant and the protesters. I turned to Jakub and said “in the west this is when we would start chanting or singing”. Jakub grabbed the bullhorn and lead the chants. The security stepped back, and the protesters celebrated a small victory. It was 1991, there was virtually no protest movement history, other than the revolution itself in the Czech Republic. The little i knew was useful.
And i was a peculiar character in the DUHA office, not only older, but i could barely count in Czech, i slept in the office often, tangled my complex finances with those of the organization, had strange anarchist friends who visited and too many girlfriends for some of the members to be comfortable.
At one point a member of DUHA came to Jakub and said
“I think Paxus works for the CIA”
Jakub replied “Get Langley on the phone – i want 5 more just like him”